A bat mitzvah fished from the recycling bin

Doing it green

| December 30, 2009

Two days before Sadie Rapp was set to lead the Chapel Hill Kehillah's congregation and celebrate her bat mitzvah, her transition to Jewish adulthood, the Rapp's house was full of repurposed garbage.

Local bars had saved bottle caps that the Rapps glued into flower arrangements sprouting from San Pellegrino bottles. Hospitality bags, cut from cereal boxes collected from friends, consumed the dining room table. The boxes were filled with Save Darfur bracelets, candy and playing cards left over from a nephew's bar mitzvah. A tzadekah box was made from an old olive oil can, and they cut strips from soda cans to make a ribbon for Sadie's hair. A map to the ceremony and party, including walking times and routes, was printed on the back of misprints from a friend's photo gallery.

Sadie borrowed a family friend's plasma cutter and learned how to inlay tin cans with stars and other designs to create votives. Place cards were made from cardboard strips and bottle caps, too.

Sadie painted her interpretation or her torah portion for the Invitations, sent by e-mail to save paper. Keeping with the theme, she'll call people instead of sending thank you notes.

Her brother, Benny, made an origami flower centerpiece using electric fence wire and paper from a World Wildlife Fund magazine. (Sadie is donating 10 percent of her gifts to WWF.)

Sadie's parents own the Furniture Lab in Carrboro and have the tools and the skill to craft such an event. But others can take what they've done and apply to their own lives.

"People don't think about it. You just do what's done. Our challenge was, can we still do all the meaningful stuff and have it be just as fun," Sadie's mother, Bryna Rapp, said. "Once you have an idea about something like this, that you're going to try to minimize your carbon footprint, you have to think about that with everything you do. Maybe we've taken it to a little bit of the extreme. It just grew and grew."

Guests walked along frosty sidewalks, completing the 20-minute hike from the Carolina Inn to the Kehillah. The Rapps asked anyone who had difficulty walking to instead carpool to the ceremony. (This was one bat mitzvah where there was plenty of parking.)

Greg Rapp, Sadie's father, greeted guests at the door, supplying them with two prayer books, one with a cardboard cereal box strip serving as a program stuffed inside. Some relatives, spanning four generations and traveling from Florida, California and New York, flipped them front to back, smiling and a nodding at the Nature's Oat, Golden Graham and Crispix labels.

Others, like Irma Stein, a founding member of the Kehillah, found meaning in the cards, too.
"This is a very conscientious young lady getting bat mitzvahed," Stein told her husband, Manny. "Instead of using another piece of paper, she uses cardboard."

Unlike the usual sea of same-colored prayer caps at bar and bat mitzvahs, a rainbow of tan, blue, orange, purple and plaid yarmulkes used in previous ceremonies adorned the heads of the congregation. Soda cans were shredded and folded to hold bobby pins.

After her Torah reading, Sadie gave a speech that linked the theme to the service. "Joseph learns from Pharaoh's dreams that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. This story reveals an important ecological message—we should not waste our limited resources, even in good times when they don't seem limited, because some day we may need them to survive." [Read Sadie's speech, PDF, 542 KB]

Rabbi Jen Feldman acknowledged Sadie's green achievements afterward. "You have become our teacher," she told her. "As we know, the best way to teach Torah is to live Torah, and you have shown our community a good example of that."

After the final prayer, a partition opened revealing an Israeli market-themed lunch, which was fork-and-knife free to reduce waste and featured finger foods: oranges, apricots, dates, pomegranates, olives, pistachios, hummus and home-baked organic pita. It was fork-and-knife free to cut down on waste, of course. Oranges, apricots, dates, pomegranates, lady apples, olives, pistachio, hummus, fatayer and home-baked organic pita were placed in and atop crates and beneath tapestries that created the feeling of a shuk. Salad, in the form of tomatoes and mozzarella, was served on kebabs.

Caterer Jamil Kadoura, owner of the Mediterranean Deli, said the event reminded him of his native Jerusalem, because of the decorations and the lack of utensils. He said he enjoyed the challenge of creating an eco-friendly menu. "It was fun, and I don't think it really is that hard," he said, noting the biodegradable plates made from corn and compost bins provided by the Orange County Solid Waste District.

"I would say we saved at least 50 percent of trash (compared to other events), absolutely." Most of the guests were thrilled by the lack of silverware, either because they usually eat with their hands anyway, as one man said (he didn't want to give his name), or because they noticed the near-empty waste bins. Sadie's large Jewish family attends a couple of bar or bat mitzvahs a year, but cousin Steven Fuchs said this was the first green one.

"She has it in her genes," grandmother Suzanne Bearman said. "Her great-grandmother has the first piece of tin foil she ever used."

"She started recycling before the term was coined," Fuchs added.

After the ceremony, more than 200 friends and family celebrated at the UNC Alumni Center, a short walk from the hotel. Instead of the typical array of inflatable guitars, Kanye West glasses and plastic hats, Sadie asked friends to bring party props, label them with their names and share them.

Sadie hopes her bat mitzvah starts a nationwide trend. Rabbis have noticed the blog she posted to tell her green story, and they've shared it with their congregations.

"Until your bar or bat mizvah, your parents are responsible for your mistakes. Now it's our job to be responsible," Sadie said. "We're the next generation that has to take care of the world."

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